vouchers

Head of Florida School System Resigns Immediately Due to IN. Scandal

Head of Florida School System Resigns Immediately Due to IN. Scandal

by Bob Sloan

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s education commissioner will resign amid allegations that he changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana’s school chief, a state education official said Thursday.

Tony Bennett will resign in the wake of the scandal surrounding Christel House Academy, the official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet authorized for public release.

Bennett, when reached by the AP, would say only that “no decisions have been made at this point.” He has denied any wrongdoing.

(http://www.courierpress.com/news/2013/aug/01/tony-bennett-resign-over-indiana-school-grade-chan/)

Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change” organization suffered a substantial set-back today.  Bush hand picked Dr. Tony Bennett to head his Chiefs for Change organization that is working to privatize school systems in the U.S. – state by state.  Bennett is a long time crony of Jeb Bush, and helped Bush push both his Common Core and Charter School Agenda.  Together they founded Bush’s educational foundations, Chiefs for Change — There’s no evidence Bush knew anything about the cheating.

In 2011 – 2012, Bennett toured the country touting the school privatization agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and was a keynote speaker at ALEC’s States and Nation conference held in Phoenix in November 2011.  Hoosier voters were not taken in by his agenda to transform Indiana public schools into a privatized education network on behalf of ALEC corporate members who have realized huge profits off the work of Bennett and Bush’s Chiefs for Change, voting Bennett from office in 2012.

VLTP, CMD, Common Cause, PFAW and other progressive outlets have reported on ALEC’s education privatization pursuits since 2010; charters, vouchers, virtual (internet) classes and parent trigger.  We warned parents that all the hype about private and charter school success rates were just that, hype.  Those who stood to profit off of such privatization efforts would stop at nothing to advance an agenda that brought them profits…regardless of the impact upon students.

This scandal involving the “fixing of grades” in Indiana by Dr. Bennett follows on the heels of a similar scandal in D.C. involving another Jeb Bush acolyte, Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. education chancellor.  Rhee has been accused of “adjusting” student test scores to give the appearance that her form of “educating” was successful.  At first, Rhee’s administration claimed it was only one elementary school involved but after independent analysis, investigators found the cheating was widespread:

“District of Columbia Public Schools officials have long maintained that a 2011 test-cheating scandal that generated two government probes was limited to one elementary school. But a newly uncovered confidential memo warns as far back as January 2009 that educator cheating on 2008 standardized tests could have been widespread, with 191 teachers in 70 schools “implicated in possible testing infractions.” The 2009 memo was written by an outside analyst, Fay “Sandy” Sanford, who had been invited by then-chancellor Michelle Rhee to examine students’ irregular math and reading score gains. It was sent to Rhee’s top deputy for accountability.

“Merrow provided a copy of the memo to USA TODAY on Thursday. Its findings stand in stark contrast to public statements made both by Rhee and her onetime deputy, Kaya Henderson, now D.C.’s chancellor. In a Jan. 8 statement coinciding with Merrow’s broadcast, Henderson noted, “All of the investigations have concluded in the same way that there is no widespread cheating at D.C. Public Schools.” She added, “We take test security incredibly seriously and will continue to do so even after our name has been cleared.” Sanford’s memo warns its intended recipients to “keep this erasure study really close (sic) hold. No more people in the know than necessary until we have more conclusive results.” The memo suggests, “Don’t make hard copies and leave them around. Much of what we think we know is based on what I consider to be incomplete information. So the picture is not perfectly clear yet, but the possible ramifications are serious.”

The Center for Media and Democracy reports:

“Despite widespread public opposition to the education privatization agenda, at least 139 bills or state budget provisions reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) education bills have been introduced in 43 states and the District of Columbia in just the first six months of 2013, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECexposed.org. Thirty-one have become law.

“In 1990, Milwaukee was the first city in the nation to implement a school voucher program, under then-governor (and ALEC alum) Tommy Thompson. ALEC quickly embracedthe legislation, and that same year offered model bills based on the Wisconsin plan. For-profit schools in Wisconsin now receive up to $6,442 per voucher student, and by the end of the next school year taxpayers in the state will have transferred an estimated $1.8 billion to for-profit, religious, and online schools. The “pricetag” for students in other states is even higher.

“In the years since, programs to divert taxpayer money from public to private schools have spread across the country. In the 2012-2013 school year, it is estimated that nearly 246,000 students will participate in various iterations of so-called “choice” programs in 16 states and the District of Columbia — draining the public school system of critically-needed funds, and in some cases covering private school tuition for students whose parents are able and willing to pay.”

Maybe now parents and voters alike will begin to realize that ALEC, Bush, Rhee, Bennett and their network have little concern for educating our children, but a huge concern about how much money can be made off of “appearing” to provide students with a quality education.  A facade has been crafted and created to make it seem that private education is working while behind the false front, tax dollars are being diverted from true education and transformed into profits for corporate exploiters.

If these individuals and their organizations have to “cheat” to make it look like their programs are working so they can capitalize off such a scam, they should all be kicked to the curb then subjected to another form of “education” created by ALEC and their corporatist members…private prisons.

Former Indiana Superintendent, Lauded by ALEC and Education Privatizers, Cheats on School Grading Formula for Top Donor

Former Indiana Superintendent, Lauded by ALEC and Education Privatizers, Cheats on School Grading Formula for Top Donor

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

New documents show that former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett — who now heads Florida’s schools — overhauled Indiana’s much-heralded school grading system to guarantee that a charter run by a major campaign donor would receive top marks. These revelations shine a light on the big bucks behind the education privatization agenda, its continued failure to meet the need of students, and provides another instance of cheating to cover up poor educational outcomes.

Bennett had been applauded by education privatizers like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for enacting reforms like school grading, vouchers, and anti-union measures. He was a keynote speaker at ALEC’s December 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit, and the education reforms he pushed were adopted by ALEC in August 2011 as a stand-alone bill called the “Indiana Education Reform Package” — in no small part because they reflected ALEC model legislation…

…Christel DeHaan, a big Republican donor in Indiana and school privatization supporter, gave Bennett an astounding $130,000 in campaign contributions for his 2008 and 2012 elections. But when DeHaan’s Christel House charter school received a “C” last September under Bennett’s grading system, he and his staff scrambled to fix it, according to emails obtained by the Associated Press.

They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

Bennett had made the A to F grading system a signature item of his 2011 radical education reforms, which he spearheaded with the support of then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and ALEC legislators in the state. Bennett often cited Christel House as a model charter school as he secured support for his education overhaul, and according to the emails had assured the Chamber of Commerce and legislative leaders that Christel was an “A” school.

This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote to Neal about the school’s “C” grade…

…”Legislative leadership as well as critics of A-F are going to use this against us to undo our accountability metrics through legislation,” Bennett wrote in another email. “I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.

According to the Associated Press, Bennett’s staff scrambled to alter the grading system over the next week, and Christel House’s grade jumped twice, eventually reaching an “A.”

Read the entire article -> HERE <-

School Boards Beware – ALEC Calls for Elimination of School Boards

School Boards Beware – ALEC Calls for Elimination of School Boards

In a recent commentary  discussing attacks upon Wisconsin’s school board structure(s), professor Julie Underwood writes about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an influential national network that’s pushing an agenda to shrink government, privatize schools, and promote business interests.  The article outlines ALEC’s legislative impact in Wisconsin and why pubic school supporters should be concerned.

In this report by Professor Underwood, ALEC’s involvement in advancing pursuits of their corporate members is laid out in a manner to allow parents and citizens to fully comprehend how they are at the core of the ongoing attacks upon public education.  Underwood, J.D., Ph.D., is a professor and the dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

VLTP has provided research articles on issues of privatizing public schools and named those organizations, companies and corporations involved in such privatization – for profit.  Dr. Underwood identifies the same players by name and organization in her research:

According to the Report Card on American Education, the education agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) calls for:

  • Reducing the influence of, or elimination of, local school districts and school boards.
  • Privatizing education through vouchers, charters and tax incentives.
  • Increasing student testing and reporting.
  • Introducing market factors into schools, particular the teaching profession.

In short, ALEC seeks to undo much of the work and power of school boards.

Corporate members pay to serve on their task-forces, and provide the funds for the state legislators to attend ALEC meetings.

Model legislation is developed through the ALEC taskforces (e.g., health, safety, education), each co-chaired by a corporate and legislative member. In order to pass a model bill out of the ALEC taskforce, both the public and elected sides of the committee must agree.  The elected officials then submit these proposals to their own state legislatures.

Members of the taskforces have an interest in the topical area of the taskforce. For example, education taskforce members include representatives from the Friedman Foundation, the Charter School Association, the private school associations, and corporations providing education services. 

The proposals cannot move out of the taskforce without the approval of the corporate interests. The corporations involved have an interest in the areas and thus typically stand to profit financially from the proposals.

For example, two large for-profit corporate providers of virtual education, Connections Academy and K-12 Inc., had heavy involvement in the development of the ALEC model Virtual Public Schools Act. At the time it was drafted by ALEC, the chair of the education committee was Mickey Revenaugh, a principal employee of Connections Academy. Connections Academy and K-12 have reaped huge financial benefits in the states where the Virtual Schools Act has been passed.

The ALEC agenda in education is ambitious. Model bills seek to influence teacher certification, teacher evaluation, collective bargaining, curriculum, funding, special education, and student assessment.

Common throughout the bills are proposals to decrease local control of schools by local school boards while increasing control, influence, and profits of the companies in the education sector. Privatization is consistent with the interests of the corporate ALEC members.

The ALEC goal to eliminate school districts and school boards is a bit shocking — but the idea is to make every school, public and private, independent through vouchers for all students. By providing all funding to parents rather than school districts, there is no need for local coordination, control or oversight.

Professor Underwood’s research, analysis and assessment are correct – ALEC and corporate members wishing to realize huge profits off of privatizing state school systems, are pushing this conservative agenda.  Key to these efforts is to wrench all control away from local school boards and school authorities.  They then seek to assume that control and authority to implement their pro-corporate programs without interference.

Though much of what Professor Underwood wrote is in reference to Wisconsin, the same facts, circumstances and outcomes are ongoing in nearly every state today.  In each case, it is ALEC legislation being used to advance the pursuits of the private “educators” seeking to trade your children’s quality of education for corporate profits.

Continuing Education and Privatization Disclosures in MI. Reveal “Skunks” at Work – Including ALEC

Continuing Education and Privatization Disclosures in MI. Reveal “Skunks” at Work – Including ALEC

An analysis of two recent articles from Michigan and why they are ALEC-related.

Analysis by Bob Sloan

Logo     ALEC’s attention to America’s education “reform” is focused and advancing state by state as they promote privatization of public school systems.  Vouchers, “parent trigger”, long distance learning, “vitrual schools” and a “Public-Private Fair Competition Act” are all ALEC model legislative bills.

    What all these “bills” have in common of late is that all of them are submitted, sponsored and supported by conservative Republican lawmakers from coast to coast…another commonality of late is that most of them can be found swirling ominously through the Michigan statehouse.

    Now Michiganders have discovered a secret group of individuals working to advance these ALEC-styled legislative franken-bills behind closed doors with members of Governor Snyder’s staff.  Members of this secretive cabal have dubbed their group the “Skunk Works”, referring to defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s secret program under the same name that developed fighter planes during and after World War II.  An article published Friday by the Detroit News reported on this strange development.

Lansing — A secret work group that includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.

“The education reform advisory team has dubbed itself a “skunk works” project working outside of the government bureaucracy and education establishment with a goal of creating a “value school” that costs $5,000 per child annually to operate, according to meeting minutes and reports obtained by The Detroit News.

What are some of pursuits of these group?

…explore using fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing. Each “value school” student would receive a “Michigan Education Card” to pay for their “tuition” — similar to the electronic benefits transfer used to distribute food stamps and cash assistance for the poor.

Students could use leftover money on the “EduCard” for high school Advanced Placement courses, music lessons, sport team fees, remedial education or cyber courses, according to an outline of the advisory team’s agenda…

“…ideology and political agenda of the creation of a for-profit and parallel enterprise market for schools. Part of its goal is to take down the education establishment: superintendents, school boards and teachers unions.

It appears this panel of Skunks were formed in December in response to failed GOP legislation related to charter schools:

“The panel’s quiet proceedings began in mid-December after GOP lawmakers abandoned controversial legislation in the lame-duck session that would have allowed corporations, municipalities and cultural institutions to run charter schools.

Who are some of the members of this education cabal? Besides Governor Snyder’s chief information officer, David Behen, who leads the group most are from the information technology field:

“The group consists of nearly 20 individuals, mostly from the information technology field, including Behen and the state’s chief technology officer, Rod Davenport. The group includes employees from the software and tech companies Vectorform in Royal Oak, InfoReady in Ann Arbor and Billhighway in Troy. Also involved is Tim Cook of the Huizenga Group, a Grand Rapids firm that owns and operates West Michigan manufacturing companies.”

Another member is well known Lansing attorney, Richard McLellan who has so far unsuccessfully pursued installing a school voucher system in Michigan to allow parents to use choose between private and public schools — with state tax dollars – something prohibited by the Michigan Constitution.  McLellan helped draft such legislation and proposed sweeping changes in November to the way Michigan schools are funded. McLellan is a director at the Oxford Foundation, which developed that plan at Snyder’s request.  He is also a co-founding member of the Koch funded Mackinac Center, another conservative think tank that has been pursuing similar efforts of privatizing Michigan’s public education.

Interesting note to the “plan” memo linked to immediately above…McLellan insisted that the Project “be conducted with maximum transparency.”  He apparently decided that such transparency would not be so “maximum” or sought at all with regard to the project involving the skunk works.  This group is so secretive, they were instructed to use alternative email accounts when corresponding.  “In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use “alternative” email accounts. Records show Behen, Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond.”

‘McLellan said the other participants are justified in using private emails. “Well, they should,” he said. “It’s not a government project.  Isn’t a skunk works by definition unorganized, backroom?” he asked rhetorically.’

“Why are we using private email addresses? Because it’s just easier,” Behen said. “There’s nothing secret or anything about this.”

 

This panel originally included one educator, Paul Galbenski, Michigan’s 2011 Educator of the Year.  Galbenski left the group when he discovered the cabal “discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system,” and began questioning his own involvement with such a group.

Galbenski was the only educator even briefly chosen to be on the panel.  A memo of the group stated that they wanted to avoid working with education consultants who are “wedded to the education establishment.

Behen said he “purposely didn’t put a bunch of teachers on (the panel)” to generate a different approach to delivering K-12 education through rapidly changing technology.

Michigan officials and authorities representing Governor Snyder and a private “foundation” and think tank such as Mackinac, have been found working secretly to completely alter the state’s education system – without any input from educators or educational consultants.  What could possibly go wrong?

So, here’s how this trick is supposed to work, for those of you in other states who would like to attempt something similar… You defund education to the point of collapse, and, then, pointing to the inevitable failure, you make the case that the only option left available is to essentially hand the whole thing over to corporate America. And you bring in an anti-public education operative with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers, hiding behind the facade of a pro-education foundation with “Oxford” in its name, so that it sounds super smart, to support and adopt the whole enchilada.

In a related article from Progress Michigan, ALEC member MI. Rep. Greg MacMaster introduced a bill copied and pasted from the “Public-Private Fair Competition Act,” adopted by ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and approved by ALEC’s Board of Directors in January 1995.

“The bill would prohibit public entities from competing against the private sector, and its definitions are so restrictive that it would allow corporations to take the state to court and force it to stop providing valuable public services. ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force includes the Tax Foundation (funded by the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil), The Mackinac Center’s Richard Vedder, and other State Policy Network-funded groups including the Freedom Foundation, Goldwater Institute, and the Illinois Policy Institute.

If this legislation were to pass – along with the education initiatives proposed by ALEC, Mackinac Center, Oxford Foundation, etc. – Michigan’s education system would be privatized and fall under this provision.  The private “educators” would be able to sue any remaining state operated schools to force them into privatization.  Not only take the school system out of the hands of the state but force taxpayers to foot the bill for any litigation costs associated with “providing public services”…such as education.

ALEC is the legislative arm of this huge conservative, Koch-funded cabal.  Perhaps Michigan today presents us with the best and clearest example of both the agenda and mechanisms utilized by this network to wrench control, oversight and operations involving public services out of the hands of state government. The goal is to get their greedy hands on tax dollars being spent for education and other necessary services and divert much of that money to profits realized by ALEC’s corporate partners.

Just as Nevada is now ground zero for the war against prison labor displacing workers under ALEC’s Prison Industries Act, Michigan is now at the center regarding attempts to privatize education, utilizing another of ALEC’s models.

School vouchers + unethical lobbying = bad policy for N.C.

A bill was modeled by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate interest group that makes no bones about its intent to starve public schools while moving public funds into the private sector. Subsidizing private education for a handful of children at the expense of public schools throughout the state will never lead to fairness for all. A strong, comprehensive public education system for all children is guaranteed by the state constitution.

Fact: Vouchers don’t work. Research shows no positive impact on student achievement. The National Coalition for Public Education, representing 50 national organizations, wrote a letter last week to Congress opposing federal funding for a similar program in Washington, D.C., because “the program has not been found to be effective in improving educational outcomes for participating students.” Sound policy must be based on fact, not anecdotal claims…

To read the entire op-ed about the impact of school vouchers on the students of North Carolina (and by extension, elsewhere), please click here

Why privatize education?

Something is wrong with conservatives’ free market argument for privatization of Utah’s public schools as promoted by several Republican legislators and their ally, the corporate lobbyist American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

…ALEC’s devious ways do not compute to this business owner. ALEC is bamboozling Utah state legislators into thinking school privatization is the right thing to do. But is it?

Our nation cannot afford a free market education system. Education of poor children, minority children, and children from large families will suffer. Children left in some form of public education will be neglected. They will fall through the cracks. In the long term our country will be devastated.

A well-educated society — poor to rich, boys and girls, all children — is the best investment our country could ever make.

Instead of privatization, why don’t we look at a successful public school system and employ its standards? Say, Maryland, the best in the country. Yes, it spends more per pupil than Utah; no cost-plus-profit, just cost. If we want results, we need to swallow the hard pill of the means for better education.

No ALEC-type organization should ever be able to place its own special interests over those of American families. No child should be left behind.

To read this fascinating article about how ALEC’s privatization of education in Utah flies in the face of their own corporate logic–complete with facts and figures, please click here

5 Ways Louisiana’s New Voucher Program Spells Disaster for Public Education

Late last month, the state of Louisiana unveiled a new school voucher program, joining 14 other states that have recently increased the availability of vouchers to fund private school tuition with public dollars.

This latest pet project of popular Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, called Louisiana Believes, is now regarded as the most extensive voucher system in the United States — out-privatizing even the state of Indiana, where nearly 60 percent of the state’s students are eligible for vouchers. By eroding caps on family income levels, and thereby providing voucher assistance to both low- and middle-income families, Indiana’s plan aimed to remake public education in the state more extensively than any voucher system in US history – until now,

To read more about ALEC’s continued assault on K-12 education, please clickhere